Monday, 21 November 2011

Extending learners learning

I've questioned my judgement today.  One of my BTEC classes have been writing up a task about three contrasting businesses, which covers one of their pass criteria for the course - they've been working on this for several sessions.

I decided (with plenty of forethought) that I would get them to extend this work by getting them to do a presentation in pairs or threes, comparing one business from one learner with a contrasting business from their partner. I asked them to create a simple, fairly informal 5 or 10 minute presentation, explaining the key differences between their chosen organisations.

On introducing the idea, I was immediately met with great resistance.  Several of the learners asked if this was merit criteria, and I told them it wasn't.  They wanted to know why they had to do the presentations, and said that they thought it was completely pointless.

I was rather taken aback by this outburst.  After initially responding by telling them that they had to do it because I had told them so (it's hard to leave your parenting one-liners at the door sometimes!), I thought about my reasons for asking them to complete the task in this way.  One of my key reasons is that I'm conscious of the fact that all too often they cut and paste bits of information from the internet, without really absorbing it and analysing it.  By standing up in front of their peers, they will have had to do at least some form of evaluation and comparison, and I felt that this would help them to develop their critical thinking skills.  This wasn't about criteria, this was about developing their ability to analyse and explain their views.

Towards the end of the lesson I explained these reasons more clearly, but sadly the students complained to their course tutor, and it was me that felt like I was in the wrong when I went back to the staff room later that day.

What most upset me was not the students' reluctance to take their learning further than just ticking the pass criteria off one by one, sad though this is.  What really upset me was that I ended up feeling like I had to defend my choice of activities to another member of staff - never a comfortable position to be in.

Writing this up gives me the confidence to say that I do think this is a worthwhile activity for my learners.  Perhaps the fact that they'll have to think a bit harder is the reason why they're resistant.  I don't want them to leave my class at the end of the year with a score card of tick boxes, I want them to be able to get a job, to be confident that they know what they're talking about, and to be able to reason and justify their actions with their colleagues.  Isn't that what teaching is all about?

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Collaborative Documents

Today I experimented with using a collaborative spreadsheet with my Extended Diploma students.  They were given the task of detailing software on a shared spreadsheet, set up using Google Docs.

I made the same mistake initially that I did with Wallwisher when I used that, which was forgetting to log in first, so that I was able to quickly delete any unwanted comments.  I did, however, remember to give out some posting rules before we started (no swearing, nothing inappropriate, blah blah blah).

After an initial flurry of inappropriate comments, mainly along the lines of song lyrics, I gave a warning, and then locked all the students out.  I said that instead, as they hadn't followed the rules, they would have to discuss their comments in groups instead.  They weren't happy with that, so we agreed that we'd have another go.  This was more successful, and almost all of the students took part and seemed to enjoy it.

I repeated the same task with a second group later today.  We came across similar issues with posting at first, and with this group I had the opportunity to discuss whether they enjoyed the activity.  The feedback was interesting - they felt that there was not enough focus (this could have been easily rectified with clearer guidance from myself and perhaps a more challenging task for this group), and that they found it annoying that other students could delete or modify their entries, which I agree was an annoying feature.

I think I'll use this again, but it needs to be more than just filling in a spreadsheet to make it a worthwhile learning experience.

Saturday, 5 November 2011


This week, I got one of my classes to complete an activity using Wallwisher. It worked really well, but I learned a few things in the process!

The activity was to 'brainstorm' how our college uses the internet.  I got the students to start their discussions in small groups and jot notes down on paper.  I then showed them the wall I had created, and gave them the address.  I showed them how to post a message, and then asked them to add sticky notes for all the ideas they had jotted down.  The wall was displayed using our IWB so I could monitor the posts.

My mistakes

I forgot to mention the 'rules' before they started.  These were that they mustn't post messages about other students, all posts needed to have the right focus, and language used should be appropriate. As a result, we had a couple of dodgy (though not too serious) posts.  This highlighted error number two on my part - that I hadn't logged in to my Wallwisher account before we started.  I therefore needed to log in sharpish in order to delete the offending messages.

The outcome

After these initial teething problems, the students seemed to really enjoy being able to post their messages, and see other messages being posted by their peers.  I turned a blind eye to some of the slightly tenuous posts, because overall, the result was a good one - some really good ideas were posted up, and because everyone wanted to 'have a go', they all made a good effort to think of something original.

The limitations are currently that I cannot now 'lock down' the page to avoid the students posting again (which I'd like to do in case they get any ideas about posting something inappropriate when I'm not checking it), but other than that I thought it was a really good tool, and I'll definitely be using it again.